CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — Cleveland Heights residents head to the polls on Tuesday, Sept. 14 to narrow a field of four candidates down to two in the city’s first mayoral election in a century.

The nonpartisan race will put the two hopefuls on the ballot for the Nov. 2 General Election. The newly elected mayor will replace the city manager form of government in which the manager is appointed by seven, at-large council members who are elected to four-year terms.

What You Need To Know

  • Cleveland Heights residents head to the polls Tuesday, Sept. 14 to narrow a field of four candidates to two in the city’s first mayoral election in a century

  • The newly elected mayor will replace the city manager form of government in which the manager is appointed by seven, at-large council members

  • A grassroots effort in 2019 asked voters to change the city-manager form of government and passed with nearly 64% of votes

  • Known as the “City of Trees,” Cleveland Heights has about 44,000 residents, and shares many of the same challenges as other inner-ring suburbs


The candidates

Barbara Danforth is a long-time resident of Cleveland Heights, who served as chief prosecutor for the City of Cleveland and assistant attorney general in Iowa earlier in her career.

Danforth held leadership roles in the nonprofit and public sectors, serving as CEO of Summit Academy Management, a nonprofit for children with developmental disabilities, and senior vice president at executive-search firm Ratliff & Taylor.

Danforth said she took the helm of the failing YWCA of Cleveland and turned the organization around to become a model for the nation.

She said lack of responsiveness as one of the biggest challenges facing the new mayor. Transitioning the government and the current culture over to the new structure also will be an immediate and challenging responsibility, she said, likening it to her experience with the YWCA.

The new mayor will also need to work with the community to establish a vison and top priorities, she explained.

“A strong mayor helps facilitate getting those things done, getting them done efficiently, effectively on time and on budget,” she said.

An environmental task force and other ad-hoc groups could be created, she said, that tap into the knowledge base of existing community members.

Melody Joy Hart is a certified public accountant and financial planner, now serving on Cleveland Heights City Council.

She has held positions at several Fortune 500 companies. She said her experience helping companies set up and operate new divisions is applicable to the restructuring Cleveland Heights will need to undergo.

She said she believes transitioning the culture will be one of the biggest challenges the city will face in the transition. Responding to resident concerns is another top issue.

“They have to put in place the processes, the procedures, the policies and the guardrails for future mayors,” she said.

As mayor, Hart said she would install a dedicated staff member to take resident calls and direct them to the proper department, which would have 48 hours to respond.

Two city departments need immediate attention, Hart explained. The housing department needs staff hired, and retained. The city’s economic development department also needs work, she said, pointing to redevelopment at the triangle at Noble and Warrenville Center roads and Severance Town Center.

She said sustainability requirements would be built into requests for proposals, so developers know from the start what the city expects.

Josephine Moore is a communications specialist and writer who moved her family to Cleveland Heights because of quality of life, and to put down roots, she said.

Moore is also a community organizer who served as a delegate for Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016, helping organize support across three of New York’s congressional districts, which Bernie won. Moore said she helped write bylaws that balanced power between New York City and the surrounding communities, so all voices were heard.

She said that experience motivated her to run for office on the local level, where change can be built from the ground up.

Lack of communication and coordination is at the heart of some of Cleveland Heights’ problems, she said. Residents want accountability and transparency, which require a strong communicator.

“As mayor, we are in a position to say, 'These are the city's goals. We need everyone on board,’ and really leading that coalition instead of just trying to facilitate it,” she said.

Environmental issues are among the top concerns facing the city, she explained. The city’s codes and regulations require review to heighten equity and inclusiveness, she said. Voices not traditionally heard should be brought into the decision-making process.

Kahlil Seren is vice president of Cleveland Heights City Council, serving since 2015. He is a policy advisor for Cuyahoga County Council, working in economic, community and workforce development among other areas.

Seren assisted in county council’s transition from a three-member board of commissioners to elected representatives and a county executive in 2011, which dovetails with the experience needed for Cleveland Heights’ upcoming transition, he explained.

Seren said residents don’t have a high degree of trust in the existing government, because too many important discussions take place outside of public view.

Early in his tenure, Seren started hosting committee meetings in council chambers, and writing legislation, which he said was not the norm.

“If we keep moving in the direction of transparency, of proactivity, of an active government that is responsive, and cares about the values of its residents, then I think Cleveland heights has a really bright future,” he said.

The city should find ways to help residents handle disputes peacefully, rather than through violence, he said. He said he also wants to explore ways to reduce carbon emissions to help preserve the city’s tree canopy, which he said affects everything from sewer runoff to peoples’ behavior.

July 29 Editor’s Note: A duplicate paragraph in the story was removed.